HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally.
In 2015, about 17.7 million people died from cardiovascular diseases. This represents about 31% of all global deaths.
Every year, in the U.S., about 735,000 people suffer from a heart attack. In a survey done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 47% of sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. happened outside of a hospital. Of those who received treatment by emergency medical services, only 10.6% survived.
In the U.S., there is one death every 40 seconds due to heart disease. Heart disease claims more lives than all of the cancers added together.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL AND WHAT IS IT USED FOR?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all parts of your body. It is a type of lipid in your blood and your body needs it, so it is not purely bad. Your body uses cholesterol for many things—making cell membranes, hormones, and bile to help with digestion. However, too much is not good for you.
HOW MUCH CHOLESTEROL DO I NEED DAILY?
The recommended daily limit on cholesterol for healthy adults is 300 mg per day. Please do not go over this limit as it may lead to health issues.
WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO HIGH CHOLESTEROL LEVELS?
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Genetic issues, e.g. hyperlipoproteinemia
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Thyroid dysfunction
WHAT DISEASES ARE ASSOCIATED WITH HIGH CHOLESTEROL?
- Heart attack
- Fatty liver disease
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “GOOD” AND “BAD” CHOLESTEROL?
Cholesterol can be split into two broad categories:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)—also known as “bad” cholesterol
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL)—also known as “good” cholesterol
Both LDL and HDL transport cholesterol throughout the body. LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to the development of atherosclerotic plaques in the vessel walls. These plaques can narrow and block off important arteries, causing heart attacks, stroke, or other serious issues. HDL, the “good” cholesterol, can carry LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, away from the arteries and bring it back to the liver for excretion from the body.
Higher levels of HDL cholesterol compared to LDL cholesterol are associated with better health, while lower levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with poorer health, including a higher risk of heart attacks.
CAN MEDICATIONS INCREASE MY HDL CHOLESTEROL LEVELS?
If you have high cholesterol levels, you are probably on medication to try to lower your LDL cholesterol levels, the “bad” cholesterol. However, medications can only lower LDL cholesterol levels; they do not increase HDL cholesterol levels as much as desired. Research has shown that increased levels of HDL cholesterol may lower the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Clinical trials have shown that increased HDL cholesterol levels are associated with a reduction in incidences of coronary heart disease. There have been some efforts to create drugs that specifically increase HDL cholesterol levels, but they have not been shown to give the same benefits in reducing health risks.
HOW DO I INCREASE GOOD CHOLESTEROL?
HDL cholesterol levels tend to be lower in people with metabolic syndrome—a group of conditions that include obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. Taking care of your health in ways such as losing weight, and reducing high blood pressure and high blood sugar, is enough to increase HDL cholesterol levels, as well as benefit your overall health.
Daily exercise, in addition to weight loss, can help to raise HDL cholesterol levels. A good diet high in fruits and vegetables may also increase HDL cholesterol levels while lowering LDL cholesterol levels.
WHY IS MY CHOLESTEROL LEVEL HIGH EVEN THOUGH I AM SKINNY?
Your body is very good at producing cholesterol. Your liver produces most of the cholesterol in your body, but other organs, such as the intestines or adrenal glands, also contribute. Cholesterol secreted into your intestines tends to be reabsorbed and recycled—about 50% of excreted cholesterol makes it back into your bloodstream.
If your body senses you have high cholesterol, it will lower cholesterol production; if you need more, it will increase production. However, this is not an exact science and sometimes, your body will keep up its own production even with high levels of cholesterol. This can be due to genetics. There are also many diseases that may affect your cholesterol levels. Your liver helps keep your cholesterol balanced. Liver diseases, such as fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, or even viral hepatitis, interfere with your liver’s ability to produce and clear cholesterol, leading to high levels of cholesterol in your blood.
WHAT OTHER FACTORS WILL INCREASE MY RISK OF ATHEROSCLEROSIS?
Inflammation is a highly destructive force inside the body. Many of the body’s failings, from disease to wrinkles, can be traced to inflammation. It is at the root of nearly every medical problem, including atherosclerosis.
One of the main contributors to inflammation is having a poor diet. For example, eating too much omega-6 fats may lead to inflammation.
However, the inflammatory effect of omega-6 can be countered by eating an equal amount of omega-3.
To take in the nutrients you need without increasing inflammation, an ideal ratio of 1:1 of omega-6:omega-3 is recommended.
HOW DO ANIMAL PRODUCTS AFFECT MY HEALTH?
Research done by Cleveland Clinic has established yet another link between the food you eat and your health. Researchers have found that choline—a substance naturally found in red meat and egg yolks increased a gut bacteria byproduct called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO is a chemical that is a strong predictor of heart disease risk, and is more accurate than high cholesterol or triglyceride levels. The researchers also found that choline increased the risk of blood clots.
Other substances in meat, such as N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), promote inflammation within the body. Inflammation will promote damage throughout the body, including the blood vessels, which leads to heart disease.
This adds to the growing body of evidence supporting that a diet containing red meat is detrimental to heart health.
WHAT IS HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
High blood pressure occurs when the blood pressure—the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels—is consistently too high. Generally, blood pressure readings that are over 140/90 are considered high.
HOW DOES HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE HARM YOUR HEALTH?
High blood pressure is a silent killer. People with high blood pressure tend to show no symptoms and feel fine until they develop severe health issues.
High blood pressure can lead to:
- Heart attack and heart failure
- Kidney disease
- Vision loss
- Metabolic syndrome
WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
- Little physical activity
- Unhealthy diet, e.g. too much salt
- Alcohol consumption
- Old age
- Kidney disease
- Adrenal and thyroid disorders
- Sleep apnea
- Congenital defects
- Some medications
IS TAKING MEDICINE ENOUGH TO CONTROL HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and take proper medications as prescribed. However, this is just the start. It is also necessary to change the way you live your life. The medications will not cure you, but a change in lifestyle and diet can benefit your health in ways that medicine cannot.
Eat healthier. Eat more plant foods with a variety of antioxidants and phytochemicals. Take care to eat less salt and balance your omega-6 and omega-3 intake. Exercise more to keep your heart healthy.
WHAT ARE SOME SIDE EFFECTS OF HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE MEDICATION?
Some high blood pressure medications carry side effects. For example, diuretics, which lower blood pressure by eliminating fluid, can cause gout or leg cramps. Other medications can cause worsening of asthma symptoms, or poor peripheral circulation.
WILL TAKING A HOT BATH INCREASE BLOOD PRESSURE?
Spending 10 minutes in a hot tub at 40°C is fine. In fact, your blood pressure will drop due to the dilation of blood vessels caused by heat.
DO CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTS AFFECT HEART HEALTH?
Many people take calcium supplements for their bone health. However, studies show that calcium supplements may increase the risk of a heart attack. Calcium is a mineral. When you take calcium supplements, the calcium will gather in your blood in large amounts, which may clog up your arteries. In an analysis of about 12,000 participants from 11 randomized controlled trials, researchers found that calcium supplements were associated with a 30% increased risk of a heart attack.
WHAT ARE SOME HEART-HEALTHY FOODS?
It is important to maintain a good diet by eating more plant foods and less red meat. Plant foods contain many beneficial nutrients, such as polysaccharides, phytochemicals, antioxidants, as well as fiber, to help keep your body healthy. A healthy diet consists mainly of a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods, such as almond, hawthorn, blueberry, cranberry, plum, chia seed, and kiwi fruit.
Source: Dr EE Zhang, eLead Global, EExplanations, Heart